Cheat Sheet: 9 Essential Driving Skills To Master

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Cheat Sheet: 9 Essential Driving Skills To Master A lot of people take driving for granted, but it’s actually really tough to be a new driver. There’s a lot of new information to take in. It’s a little overwhelming at first—and a lot of people who’ve been driving for years and even decades don’t really remember what’s it’s like to ask beginner questions. Teens are in danger whenever they drive with big skill gaps. This potentially puts everyone on the road at risk.

So, what’s the solution?

It turns out, there may still be more we can do to prevent accidents. Past research has suggested that many new drivers don’t learn how to adequately anticipate hazards, assess risks, and adjust their driving accordingly.

A McKnight and McKnight research study reviewed police reports and determined that the most significant causes of crashes among kids ages 16 to 19 essentially amounted to gaps in student driver knowledge and basic skills.

Visually scanning ahead for hazards, paying attention, and appropriately managing speed were all cited as weaknesses that represented 43.6 percent, 23 percent, and 20.8 percent of all car crashes for that age range, respectively. Combining these percentages, more than 80 percent of young driver accidents could be attributed to basic driving skills failure.

9 Essential Driving Skills for Teens

Really, though, there are only 9 essential skill areas to master. Each of these content areas is helping to keep your new driver safe, so it’s important to have these in the curriculum.

Of course, distractions are also a concern with teen drivers, so preparation for a drive should include distraction management. At the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, researchers note that young drivers’ perception that messages should be responded to immediately is one big reason why teens use their phones while driving.

“In focus group research, they [teen drivers] told us that the need to instantly respond to messages by being constantly connected plays a role in why they think they use cell phones while driving,” a representative from the Center for Injury Research said.

To combat this idea, parents can let their teens know it’s okay to wait. It’s not just peer communications that create this stress for new drivers, either. Some teens incorrectly their parents demand immediate communication.

Ready for our list of essential driving skills? Here are 9 areas every new driver needs to be familiar with.

1. Basic car parts and how they are used

How to properly label and identify individual car parts will help your teen if they have to troubleshoot problems with their vehicle, explain what’s happening, or even just understand how their car works.

A few other essentials to know:

  • Vehicle body
  • The battery
  • Doors and windows
  • Engine
  • Tires and wheels
  • Headlights
  • Taillights
  • Turning signal lights
  • Hood
  • Trunk, hatch, back door, etc.
  • Front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive, four-wheel drive, all-wheel drive, etc.
  • Steering wheel
  • Brakes (also including parking and emergency brakes, too)
  • Gas pedal
  • Gear shift (and if the vehicle is automatic or manual)
  • Windshield wipers
  • Mirrors
  • Ignition
  • Dashboard

2. How to prepare for a drive

Before starting a drive, your teen should know basics like making sure the vehicle is in good working order, has enough fuel for the trip, has intact tires that are filled, and so on. This doesn’t mean a top-to-bottom diagnostic before every journey, but it does mean that your teen should know how to recognize a flat, notice an empty gas tank, and observe other basics that would mean some basic car maintenance is in order.

3. How vehicles actually work

The basic science behind how vehicles really work and the essentials they need. The roles of various engine systems, the cooling system, etc. Your teen doesn’t have to know what every part does or how every system works, but it’s a good idea to have a basic understanding of how vehicles operate.

4. Operating your vehicle

How to drive the vehicle. This includes using the brakes and pedals and recognizing what the warning lights and indicators for your teen’s specific make and model mean. The process from turning the key in the ignition to putting the vehicle in park and preparing to shut everything off.

5. Parking your vehicle

Of course, your teen will also need to know how to park a vehicle and end the drive. Parallel parking is one important thing on the list, but there are also other important skills to remember. Rules about how close to park to the curb are also points to add to your list.

6. Types of roads and road conditions

Experienced drivers know that gravel roads, pavement, cement, and brick are all very different to drive on. Turning and maneuvering on different terrain is an essential driving skill.

7. How the time of day and weather influence driving conditions

Planning for adverse weather conditions, driving on snow, maneuvering the vehicle during a rainstorm, and reacting appropriately to weather changes. Even clear sunny days pose a unique driving situation—plus drivers can become overconfident if they judge the weather to be particularly favorable. It’s a good idea to prepare your teen for these situations.

8. How to handle special situations (u-turns, roundabouts, backing around corners, etc.)

Special driving circumstances can pose a distraction to new drivers if they don’t have enough experience with them. The first time a new driver sees a roundabout or has to make a u-turn, for instance, could be needlessly stressful.

9. Following the law and interacting with first-responders

New drivers should be prepared to answer questions, follow the laws carefully, provide the right information, and interact respectfully with law enforcement and emergency personnel.